February 21, 2011
Text by Regina Cola Photography by Laura Moss
Barbara Pervier believes in drapery. “It’s not home until the curtains go up,” the Salem, Massachusetts, designer insists.
She also has strong feelings about millwork, tinted ceilings and classical proportions.
Pervier, who lives with her Jack Russell terrier, Ralphie, in an 1830 redbrick house facing Salem Common, put those convictions into practice when she bought her condominium. With carefully considered window treatments, moldings, subtly colored ceilings and other details that lead the eye upward to tall ceilings or outward toward the view, she created a home with big panache in a footprint measuring a mere 640 square feet.
Small rooms in old houses can present challenges, but Pervier’s design creates a sensibility that’s anything but cramped or fusty. With a personality far more expansive than its square footage, her home is a lovely showcase for her antique furniture, art and well-loved collections.
“To guide me, I used the memory of how it felt the first time I stepped into this room,” Pervier says as she snuggles into a fireside wing chair upholstered in creamy white linen. “I walked to the windows and looked out at the Common, the trees, people walking and the beautiful old buildings. I resolved to always focus on the view.”
In service to that view, she painted the living room walls a color she describes as soft blue-gray-green. “This shade of blue brings the sky in from outside,” she says. “It’s very soothing and makes for a feeling of openness.” The hue is a first for her. “I like blue, but before this I never had blue walls,” she confesses.
Two living room windows gaze down on the iconic New England cityscape. Flanking them is a single pair of luxurious silk panels in the same blue as the walls. With a Greek key motif at the leading edge, each panel drapes the outside of one of the windows. The sophisticated design seems to increase the room’s size while placing the view front and center.
Crown moldings the color of ginger line the upper walls, drawing the eye upward and making the room look larger still. Other elements contributing to the living room’s tranquility include the neutral herringbone pattern of the flat-weave broadloom rug, the simple, pale upholstery on sofa and chairs and the opalescent Murano glass lamps, all of which bring an elegant restraint suited to the building. “The style of the house is classic, but neutral,” the designer says. “The proportions, to my eye, are perfect.”
Pervier has loved historic architecture since, as a child, she visited an aunt who lived on Boston’s Marlborough Street. “I loved to visit the grand old brownstone, and I used to say, ‘Someday I’m going to live in one of these beautiful houses.’ ”
Her old-house fondness, however, has no truck with fussy fabrics or crowded rooms. “I’m not someone who likes a lot of pattern. I always like things fresh, simple. I use a lot of neutrals; I like to come home and feel serene,” she says. “Also, when the background is neutral, it allows objects to stand out.”
This philosophy informs the bedroom, where millwork applied to soft beige walls lends distinction and a sense of space. A coverlet and pillows in a standout Manuel Canovas plaid in plum, beige and cream drive the color scheme for the room.
Above the fireplace, twin sconces flank a Federal bull’s-eye mirror. “The sconces are brass, which I painted with gold-leaf paint,” Pervier says. “It softens them and makes them look less garish beside the antique mirror.”
She used the same trick to age the brass of the bedside table with a soft patina. “I have always loved to mix old and new,” she says. “Sometimes the new has to be aged a bit.”
In the kitchen, a white marble countertop with warm gold veins sets the tone. The narrow room allows for a table and chairs at one end. The walls here are blue, too, though a paler shade than that of the living room. At the kitchen’s far end, a window looks down on a wide perennial bed planted by the designer. “I have it all,” she says, “a home that suits me perfectly, a wonderful city neighborhood and even a garden!”
Pervier stresses the impact of local history on her design work. “Where a house is located is very important,” she says. “When you live in a town rich with heritage, you have to acknowledge that. In the living room, the gilt head mounted on the wall between the windows is my nod to the figureheads on Salem’s famous China clippers.”
In another nod to the sea, Pervier has strewn seashells all about her home. She places them on fireplace mantels, heaps them in bowls and keeps them on the desk as paperweights. Ever since she was a child, when her father collected them on a posting to Okinawa, Pervier has loved seashells. “I’m a nature girl,” she says with a laugh. “They make for interesting shapes and textures in most any kind of room.”
Perhaps they’re also responsible for her penchant for iridescence, whether in a collection of silvery elements on a tabletop, clear glass drawer pulls that reflect and refract sunlight in the kitchen or the delicate tints she applies to ceilings. “A room isn’t painted if you leave the ceiling bare,” she declares. “The soft tints reflect light in flattering ways and can be subtle echoes of stronger colors.”
The designer knew she had gotten her home just right when she participated in the annual house tour sponsored by Historic Salem. “Lots and lots of people came through,” she recalls. “And I got lots of positive comments, mostly from women. What I remember best, however, was hearing a man say, ‘I could move right in here.’ Then I knew that it works!”
Interior design: Barbara Pervier